Baltimore City Schools Alter Zero-Tolerance Weapons Policy

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Exhibit "A"

When Park Elementary second grader Josh Welch was suspended for biting his Pop-Tart into the shape of a handgun and waving it around back in March, “zero tolerance” began to look more than a little absurd. And now Baltimore city schools have revised their own zero-tolerance weapons policy to remove the automatic suspension for the possession of items such as toy guns, water pistols, and butter knives.

Even in cases that involve more serious weapons-that-are-not-firearms, principals are now required to try other avenues before suspension, such as a conference with parents. But school officials note that these alternative interventions do not preclude the use of suspension, even in the case of a first offense, if the principal deems it appropriate.

The goal is a more sensible and flexible disciplinary policy, but confusing language and a lack of public input have made many parents and principals uncertain whether the new rules actually end up restricting school leaders’ ability to punish weapons possession.

To see the uncertainty in action, compare Fox 45’s coverage of the policy change to that of WJZ. Both interview Jimmy Gittings of the principals union. Fox implies that suspensions are now off the table in the case of knife possession, while WJZ portrays the change as giving more discretion over discipline to principals.

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